Here’s Your Permission Slip.

Knock, knock...

Hopefully neither of you will mind if I do a little thinking aloud in this post. I realized something today: I’ve read an awful lot of books on photography in the few years. Some covered technique, some had a more philosophical bent, and still others were just collections of great photos from the last 150 years, give or take a couple of decades. We’re talking thousands of pages, thousands more photos, and countless pieces of advice (some of it explicitly contradictory).

In some cases, I knew quite well what I was looking for, especially when someone had some technical knowledge to impart that’d help me nail some setting or compositional technique or other. Sometimes, with the more philosophical stuff, it helped to read someone whose ideas and philosophical approach to the craft were close to my own; it’s nice to have your thinking validated to some degree I suppose, and/or to find out you’re not (that) crazy. And the collections of photos were great for inspiration and visual literacy… 

Every once in a while, though, I found and still find that I come away from all that stuff — the thinking, the knowledge, the input, even the inspiration — feeling like I’m missing something. I finally figured out that all of this amounts to nothing more than asking permission. Not to pick up a camera (once the bug bit, it was already too late for that) or to get the pictures themselves, but to just let go. It’s taken (or taking) me a while to realize that sometimes what we need isn’t more knowledge, more technique, more inspiration, or more stuff. Sometimes it’s more about letting go of all that, and not worrying so damned much whether you’ve got enough of it. Face it: you do not know enough. You will not know enough, ever, since the more you know, the more you start to get the broad outlines of how little you know and how much you have yet to learn. And that ignorance (I use the word literally, not pejoratively) is enough to intimidate the hell out of you if you care about something enough to have learned about it in the first place. You start to realize that if you’re waiting for enough knowledge, or the right knowledge, you are and will remain paralyzed.

At some point, then, you just have to say, “enough,” and mean it. Know that you have enough, even when it doesn’t feel like nearly enough, and even when you’re told it’s not enough. Improvise, learning as you go, allowing and even welcoming the mistakes. That kind of faith feels rash and counterintuitive, but having faith that what you’ve got is sufficient to get you started can mean the difference between taking those faltering first steps and remaining perfectly, frustratingly still. Maybe we need to set our knowledge aside in order to move past our ignorance?

If you were anything like me in elementary school, you probably came thisclose to missing out on some cool stuff ’cause you were probably a bit late with a permission slip or three. When it comes to your craft, whether it’s photography or something else altogether, stop waiting for permission. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you it’s okay, or that now you’re ready. Indulge, experiment, screw up/succeed beyond your wildest dreams. You don’t need permission, not mine or anyone else’s. And if you’re still waiting for it after reading all this, what you need is not permission, but a swift kick in the ass. You want permission? It’s already yours for the taking… the only catch is, you have to give it to yourself.

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